Burren star Donal O'Hare relieved to end long wait to get his hands on Down title once more
Morgan Fuels Down Senior Football Championship
WHEN Donal O’Hare got his hands on the Frank O’Hare Cup for the second time just a couple of weeks after his 20th birthday, the outlook could hardly have been more positive.
With Down titles in 2010 and 2011 bolstered by Ulster U21 crowns in both years, the St Mary’s looked like strong contenders to rule the roost for the foreseeable future. After all, success was all O’Hare and that clutch of emerging young talent had known.
Fast forward seven years and the pain of defeat on the big days has been learned the hard way.
Rather than Burren going on to dominate, a brilliant Kilcoo side came along and took control, laying claim to the next six Down titles – equalling the record of consecutive championships won by the all-conquering St Mary’s team of the 1980s.
In three of those finals, O’Hare was part of the crestfallen Burren sides left gazing up into the stand at Pairc Esler as Kilcoo captains gave them three cheers and wished them well for next year.
This year, though, there was a feeling from the get-go that things were going to be different.
O’Hare only came into the championship fold at the quarter-final stage, but led from the front brilliantly as the Magpies were dethroned on Sunday, the 27-year-old landing 2-5 to help Burren end their dreams of reaching seventh heaven,
“It’s bittersweet,” he said, “it’s been a long time coming, but when we’ve waited this long it feels twice as good.
“I suppose we came out and won five under-21s in a row and two Ulsters and thought that was going to be it. We won two championships but haven’t won anything since - six years is a long time and to get over the line today, it was good to be on the other side for once.
“Something about this year just felt a lot different. We lost a few boys at the start of the year but that was maybe an inspiration and a motivation to keep driving on and not use that as an excuse.”
O’Hare’s all-round performance was right out of the top drawer, and fellow Burren stalwart Kevin McKernan wasn’t surprised to see him turn in such a huge performance when they needed it most.
“I have seen it with Donal, with Down and Burren in particular,” he said.
“To see Donal with the hands on the ball for a free-kick, it is such a relief to know you have a man like that on your team. The goal chances as well, to put them away like that…
“He has put in hours of practise. You just have to see him around training and the stuff he pulls off. Actually something happened the other night and I turned to him and asked, 'will you try that on Sunday?' and he said 'oh aye, surely'; outside of the left foot, from 50 metres out!
“He is capable of crazy things.”
Burren boss Paddy O’Rourke hailed the impact of assistant Stevie McDonnell in helping bring the best out of O’Hare and the other St Mary’s forwards.
The former Armagh star, the 2003 player of the year, was a force to be reckoned with in his playing pomp and O’Rourke believes that confidence has rubbed off.
“I managed him, and he was the sort of player who had an awful belief in his own ability, and all we were looking for was him to transfer some of that belief into the Donal O’Hares of this world.
“I think you can see that’s starting to happen. He spends a lot of time with our forwards, and we’ve scored a lot all year. A lot of that must go down to him.”